It's probably a little unfair to blast Todd Akin (R-Missouri) for his belief in uterine magic, since his entire worldview hinges on a poor Nazarene woman practicing that art over 2000 years ago. Then again, the Archangel Gabriel didn't deliver the Annunciation by sticking a flaming foot in his trumpet, so there's that.
Yesterday, Akin told a local TV journalist that victims of "legitimate rape" rarely become pregnant because "the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down." On Twitter, his comments induced an afternoon full of the hilarity and despair so common to politics. On the campaign trail, his extremism had obvious implications for Paul Ryan. But it's in the vague space of implication that Akin's statements do the most—and the ugliest—ideological heavy lifting.
As with anything this gross, snidely firing back at Akin was the easiest response to process. He subscribes to a kind of quack science that says women who are "really" distressed by rape will become so hormonally inhospitable to life that their bodies reject conception. This has far-reaching implications. Maybe the Boxer Rebellion should have been impervious to bullets harder, with more faith. Or, better yet, picture Kim Jong-il on an empty box of morning-after pills: "Want to Stop a Rape Pregnancy? USE JUCHE!"
One wonders how he explains the thousands of Congolese children who are the products of rape as a military tactic; perhaps the bayonets and guns pointed at the moms prevented their vaginas from struggling "enough." And God only knows how Akin actually imagines this working biologically. A disdain for trauma this cartoonishly stupid might actually be the product of a grasp of biology indistinguishable from a cartoon.
The political response was fairly easy to process, too—taking note of how Akin is part of a bigger picture of contempt for rape victims. Last year Akin and Paul Ryan co-sponsored the "No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act." Federal programs like Medicaid are already prohibited from paying for abortions, except in the case of rape, but Akin and Ryan's bill attempted to reduce the scope of that rape exemption. Statutory rape, incest and rape by coercion or drugging would, ostensibly, have been off the table. The only legal exemption would have been in cases of "forcible rape."
There can be no interpretation of the bill as something respectful of women's rights. Its structure essentially conceded that there are degrees of rape we can live with. This is a tolerable violation; this is not. This is an act of disempowerment, exploitation or violence—but this one over here, this one is the bad kind of rape. To put this in an analogy even the hella-est of bros can understand, it would be like passing a federal law saying that you could only collect an insurance check if burglars knocked you out and took YOUR TVs AND GAMING RIGS AND STUFF while smashing up a bunch of family pictures. An elegant cat-burglar who cleaned everything out and vacuumed afterward? A lady at a bar who spiked your drink and stole your wallet and keys, then upgraded TVs? The man who defrauds you out of your possessions via illegal contract? That's a palatable theft of your security. SORRY AS HELL, BRO.
Of course Akin didn't mean that. He didn't mean anything. He misspoke, and one of the right's useful she-idiots has gone to work excusing it with unrelated made-up allegations or by noting that Whoopi Goldberg once said that there was a difference between "rape" and "rape-rape." (The "let's ask the left some tough questions" thought experiment was a coed affair, with Politico's David Catanese asking where the science is, and can we have an open debate about maybe women being big fat liars?) Akin's supporters want voters to see both and cancel them out, to assume two stupid statements make a right, as opposed to being two stupid things. But, while both comments are dumb, there is a false equivalency between Goldberg and Akin. Whoopi did some decent standup, made a few pretty good movies, made a lot more bad ones and is a morning TV host. Todd Akin leads the Missouri polls for a United States Senate position, is a current member of the House of Representatives and—last of all—the man who believes in wizarding wombs sits on the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology.
But, again, these are all the obvious things to harp on. Where Akin's comments did the most work was in their nasty implications.
Akin's suggesting that women can fight off pregnancy via the magic of RAPE TRAUMA could be dismissed as just another example of the new frontiers of Republican Science. But the fact that he believes this only happens in cases of "legitimate rape" is particularly nasty. In a country where 54 percent of all sexual assaults go unreported, preemptively casting suspicion on rape victims' statements is inconceivably cold-hearted. (This isn't something anyone needs first-hand knowledge to grasp; just following online sports discussion is enough to understand how eagerly people will find excuses to delegitimize rape claims and the victims themselves.) False rape accusations—even after being inflated by fudged law enforcement numbers—are statistically dwarfed by unreported rapes. But, to a nation of women already afraid of being demonized in their communities and the press for "whorish" behavior or making vengeful false accusations, Akin adds yet another pitiless charge: that your fertility will betray your perfidy, that your belly will swell with your iniquity, that you have the right to be both fucked and double-fucked, and that—aside from that weight just below the pit of your stomach—here is what you will get: nothing.
Akin's implications don't end there, because of course this doesn't end with Akin. While Mother Jones points out that he's hardly the only person to hold these beliefs about the willful imperviousness of vaginas, Think Progress notes that his blithe dismissal of the existence or veracity of countless victims isn't his own creation either. It's not even close.
Wade long enough in the evangelical movement's online commentary about rape and pregnancy and it starts to feel like you're trapped in an Octavio Paz essay about brutish, devout male stereotypes living in a binary world of virgins and prostitutes. For all the talk of the priceless "gift from God" that is a child's life—even a child who is the product of rape—there is always a shadowing attitude of retribution. All children are beautiful, but while sex is a game, for all women who play it wrong, children are their penalty. Abortion is wrong because it transgresses against God's love of life and His creation of it, but also because there is no more thorough, more seemingly endless punishment for whores than the burden of motherhood.
Akin adds that shaming implication to the dialogue when he talks about "legitimate" women being able to fight off pregnancy. His non-science remains indistinct from magic not only because it's an utter fabrication, but also because he wants his audience to hear evidence of the miraculous. The mysterious hormones stopping up legitimate women's wombs are indistinguishable from the salvific mercies of God, just as an open fecund womb evidences His wrath. Abortion is not just the sin of murder but the sin of pride: neither the government nor a rape victim has any right to determine who should be spared.
Image by Jim Cooke.